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A coordinated wave of bomb attacks has rocked the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. At least 69 people have been killed and more than 185 injured in a series of 14 explosions, consisting of four car-bombs and 10 improvised explosive devices (IEDs). This is the worst violence to besiege Iraq in months, and it puts an exclamation point on the daunting reality that America may have prematurely left a nation whose government remains ruptured by sectarian divisions. Divisions that may ultimately undermine the enormous sacrifices made by American troops, and plunge the country into sectarian turmoil.
Although it was not immediately clear who was behind the attacks, analysts speculate that the level of coordination reflects a capability only available to al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is primarily a Sunni-dominated organization. Furthermore, the bombings were aimed at “soft targets,” another al-Qaeda trademark. “They targeted children’s schools, day workers and the anti-corruption agency,” said security spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta. “The children were scared and crying,” said Raghad Khalid, a kindergarten teacher at a school in Karrada. “Some parts of the car bomb are inside our building.” The car bomb was actually an ambulance driven by a suicide bomber, who killed 18 people when he detonated the vehicle.
Most of the districts targeted were Shi’ite neighborhoods, and the attacks were apparently timed to coincide with the morning’s rush hour. They may also be the first reprisals directed at Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose move to sideline two Sunni rivals has caused turmoil within the fragile coalition that forms the current government. Earlier this week, Maliki demanded the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, claiming he organized assassinations and bombings. Hashemi denies the accusations, and has taken refuge in Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he is being given protection by the regional government. The Kurds, who represent Iraq’s third major political faction, are unlikely to hand him over to Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.
Adding to the tension is another demand by Maliki, who asked parliament to fire his Sunni deputy, Saleh al-Mutlaq, for comparing Maliki to Saddam Hussein. On Wednesday al-Mutlaq was granted leave until the Iraqi House of Representatives can make a decision regarding his fate. Yet al-Mutlaq was not alone in making such a comparison. Sunni tribesman Ali Hatem Suleiman, the leader of powerful Dulaimi tribe, also told the BBC Maliki was becoming like Hussein. “Maliki will drive Iraq towards separation and will create a new dictatorship and take on Saddam’s mantle,” he contended. “Unfortunately this was all agreed upon by America–to hand over Iraq to a new dictator, and so Iraq will implode again.”
Suleiman joins a growing list of disaffected Sunnis, all convinced Iraq is disintegrating into sectarian factions. This disaffection is highlighted by a government boycott precipitated by the al-Iraqiyya group, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament. They are protesting the warrant for Hashemi’s arrest, and accuse Maliki of trying to monopolize power. Al-Iraqiyya’s disaffection may be critical. They are led by secular Shi’ite Muslim Ayad Allawi, who had convinced many of the same Sunni tribes responsible for driving the bloody insurgency from 2004-2007 that he would help them reclaim some of the power they’ve lost in a post-Saddam Iraq. Yet those hopes have now been dashed. “That’s all finished,” said an unnamed senior diplomat in Baghdad. “The office they created for Allawi [a strategic policy ministry] isn’t even functioning anymore. No one turns up for work.”
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